Bergen-May/June 2015-reporting back on Ole Bull and more discoveries

Posted on June 1st, 2015 by


Presenting the violin in the salon environment.-Lysvaerket, 1 6 16. Thanks to Bonjwing Lee for the photo. bonjwing.com

Presenting the violin in the salon environment.-Lysvaerket, 1 6 16. Thanks to Bonjwing Lee for the photo. bonjwing.com

On Saturday 30th, after the excitement of returning the violin to its case on Thursday LINK, I returned to Lysoen with Malene Sheppard Skaerved, for a day of research and discovery. This began with some hours walking the island, a powerful reminder of why Bull chose this extraordinary spot for his sanctuary.

Spring has come very late to Norway, but today, the sun is shining in the woods on Bull's island, and every bird is singing. 30 5 15

Spring has come very late to Norway, but today, the sun is shining in the woods on Bull’s island, and every bird is singing. 30 5 15

It was Malene’s first visit to the island. She has been a powerful force in my coming to an understanding of Nordic Romantic figures; an expert on H C Andersen, she alerted me to the friendship between the two great travellers, HCA and OB, many years ago.

We spent many ours ‘fishing’ in the extraordinary pile of uncatalogued letters and other materials-a treasure trove of information about the figures associated with Bull, in Europe and the USA.

 

Bull and ‘Brothers Amati’

Of course, we have been focusing on Bull’s priceless 1647 Niccolo Amati this week, but I knew that he also held the work of Niccolo’s father (Girolamo) and uncle (Antonio) in high regard. So I will begin with this unlabelled newspaper cutting, to Mr Watson, a figure who popped up  later in the day. I play a ‘brothers’ Amati violin most days, and recognise their spirits, who ‘console you in sorrow, temper you in joy, and bring blessed ideas and good tidings to allyou friends and hearers’

The letter about the 'brothers' Amati violin

The letter about the ‘brothers’ Amati violin

Ole Bull on the Road in the USA

I have long been fascinated by the world of the independent 19th century travelling musician. This led, in the past, to inspiring explorations of Niccolo Paganini’s ‘Red Notebook’ at the  Library of Congress, which offers a powerful insight into the finances and thinking of the great Genoese on the road between 1828 and 1834. http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2012/06/working-with-paganinis-secret-red-book/

Working with Paganini's travel notebook at the Library of Congress. Photo Richard Bram

Working with Paganini’s travel notebook at the Library of Congress. Photo Richard Bram

This time last year, working with the archive shown to me by Olea Smith Kaland, I found an exciting document of Ole Bull’s concerts in Virginia LINK

Bull in St Petersbourg and Richmond Virginia January 1844

Bull in St Petersbourg and Richmond Virginia January 1844

With this in mind, I was very excited, to find an this unlabelled notebook with beautifully marbled boards. It proved to be Bulls’ accounts for concerts on his US tour in 1844-5. As a touring musician myself, I recognise so much of this-particularly the balancing of profit and loss, and the need to have a notebook to keep track, ‘on the road’. 

Bull's accounts for costs and takings in the USA 1844 -5

Bull’s accounts for costs and takings in the USA 1844 -5

I have had such a lot of fun, mirroring Ole Bull’s pioneering trips in the USA; one of the places, of course that I spend a lot of time, is Nashville, and this page documents Bull’s first two appearances in Nashville, in April 1845. He would return in 1853 and 1856.

Ole Bull's first concerts in Nashville, April 1845

Ole Bull’s first concerts in Nashville, April 1845

In the top left had corner of each account, the takings for each night-$183 on the 10th April, and $307  on the 12th. The Republican Banner reported of the first concert was ‘numerously and fashionably attended’.  The costs for the two concerts were $84 combined, so bull made a clear profit of $409 for the two nights. This were small concerts by his standards in the US, but the profit gives an idea why America was so attractive for performers-the 5/6 profit margin was not unusual, but would be inconceivable today. The costs include, delightfully $2 each night, for a carriage to and from the Hall. I will break some of these account pages down later. The success of classical musicians in Nashville (Camillo Sivori-Paganini’s only pupil-appeared in 1847) was directly responsible for the growth of Nashville into ‘Music City’. I recommend  ‘Nashville Music before Country’ by Tim Sharp (Arcadia Publishing 2008), if you would like to find out more about this.

Letters between Ole Bull and Felicie Bull

Whilst I explored, Malene spent time reading the extraordinary correspondence between Bull and his first wife, Alexandrine Félicie Villeminot. Malene is a peerless inquisitor of relationships and world of travellers and emigrants. Her clear eye on this material was immediately apparent.

Malene Skaerved reading letters between Ole Bull and Alexandrine Félicie Villeminot. Lysoen 30 5 5

Malene Skaerved reading letters between Ole Bull and Alexandrine Félicie Villeminot. Lysoen 30 5 15

Malene’s immediate reaction was the extraordinary love between the two young people, and the pain that resulted to from separation. We both were reminded of what parting meant in the days before telephones and E mail, and the pain of isolation, not just for the traveller, but for the person left behind, in  Félicie ‘s case, left behind in France, Britain and Norway. The the corrosive effect on this is gradually more apparent in the letters.

The complications of Travel

We tend to forget, that it is no only transport which has become simpler, but the modern passport and visa has eased the process in ways which would have been unimaginable for Bull’s generation. Bull travelled for much of his life on a pass issued by the Swedish governor of Norway. One of these documents, of course, in French and Swedish turned up in the pile of materials we viewed this weekend. 

Ole Bull's Swedish passport, issued in 1842

Ole Bull’s Swedish passport, issued in 1842

The document is falling to pieces, having been folded and unfolded so many times-not only going across borders, but through city walls. Many northern cities, such as Copenhagen, which was a walled, ramparted city, with a customs post, until the 1850s. Part of the mish-mash of stamps and permits on the back is one issued in Lübeck, giving permission for Bull to take ship from Kiel to Copenhagen.

Permission to leave Germany for Copenhagen

Permission to leave Germany for Copenhagen

Ole Bull uses Lysøen as publicity!

One of the really inspiring objects which appeared, was a programme for Ole Bull’s concert in Cairo on the 11th February 1876.  What immediately struck us was that Bull wished to be assoociated with his newly built ‘Alhambra’.

Progamme for the Cairo concert

Progamme for the Cairo concert

the pose on the path, more or less mirrored where I stood with his descendants, last Thursday.

With Sigurd Sandmo, Berit Hogheim, Olea Smith Kaland, Schak Bull, 29 5 15

With Sigurd Sandmo, Berit Hogheim, Olea Smith Kaland, Schak Bull, 29 5 15

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